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Review: The Only Way is Up by Carole Matthews

the only way is up carole matthews Review: The Only Way is Up by Carole Matthews

With their double-barrelled surname, their penchant for the organic and the seasonal, and their astonishing collection of all things black and glossyBlackberry phones, thoroughbred horses, top of the range Mercedes, designer leather goods, and tinted windows to name just a few things that fit into this categoryLily and Laurence arent so much as keeping up with the Lamont-Joneses as they are the Lamont-Joneses (sorry, couldnt resist). Lily spends her days at charity luncheons, in search of the perfect truffle oil for her leafy, carb-free dinners, or inspecting her designer furniture, fearful that it might actually had been used for something other than display; Laurence, on the other hand, spends his days, by which I mean the entirety of his days, multitasking between the seductive demands of his Blackberry, his email, and his pager. The children? Well, no one is entirely sure, given that they spend the better part of the year being shunted off to a fashionably named boarding school for the fashionably named. However, as the above might suggest, despite being financially comfortable, the Lamont-Joneses are a strangely fractured family. Whilst each purports to have the others best interests at heart, this is more of a theoretical perspective than one that is ever put into practice: indeed, it seems that at times its only the hyphen between their names that is keeping them together. This is not necessarily for want of trying, but rather a byproduct of their lifestyle and the social groups they keep. It almost seems that the more distanced from ones family one is, then the more successful. Its a free-market, laissez-faire approach to family life.

But as the recent economic downturn has informed us, laissez-faire isnt exactly risk-free, and sometimes theres a need for the occasional bail-out. This certainly turns out to be the case for the Lamont-Joneses when they return home from a grotesquely decadent Tuscan holiday to find that they have only their (admittedly extensive) wardrobe of summer clothes, Laurences unused golf clubs, and some sun-dried porcini mushrooms to their name. As an aghast Lily stares at her boarded-up mansion, lamenting the loss of her Smeg appliances, Laurence at last comes clean, admitting that his incessant cradling of his beloved Blackberry is less due to surgical attachment than it is to the fact that he has been desperately trying to pull them out of financial ruin. (One cant help but think that it might perhaps have been a good idea for him to have admitted this issue at the point when the books stopped balancing and he was canned for being embroiled in a pyramid scheme, but this point is rather wincingly put down to issues of male ego.)

Still, if its one thing that investment banker type chaps are good at, its finding a way of turning a sows ear into a silk purse, and the now homeless and penniless Lamont-Joneses, too humiliated to ask for help from their snooty friends (to be honest, given the way that their friends are depicted in this book, I can understand this one), or even their families (this one I dont understand, but given that grandparents or other extended family members are given so much as a sentence of page time in this book, one can only assume that both Lily and Laurence are orphans, or are living under a witness protection programme), set off to the local community housing office in search of temporary accommodation whilst they try to sort things out. This, fortunately, does work out for them, although not entirely in the manner that Lily and Laurence might have hoped. Arriving at their flea-infested new abode, the Lamont-Joneses cant help but feel that the word temporary in the word temporary accommodation seems to refer not only to the length of time they plan to remain there, but also how long the house itself might. But despite themselves, Lily and Laurence soon find themselves becoming quite enamoured of chip-board laminate, and are soon firm besties with the local neighbourhood scruffs, all of whom apparently have hearts of gold, and can think of nothing better to do than spend their time and scant resources on their newly arrived neighbours. One has to admit that the ease with which this rather snooty family is integrated into local life (and indeed the fact that they want to be at all) is all rather odd given the fairly entrenched values regarding social status and class in England, and on a more pragmatic level, the extremely high mobility rates characterising these areas, but this is one of those pesky issues that youll find yourself setting aside as you find yourself being charmed by this book.

As Lily and Laurence spend more time on the estate, however, and indeed more time with themselves and their, gasp, children, who actually spend the better part of the day at home now (or at least next door watching television and scoffing biscuits with their new friends, the timelessly named Keanu and Charlize), they begin to rethink their goals and values, reflecting on their previously achingly endless materialistic bent and the distance that has so long existed between them. With this in mind, Laurence takes a poorly paid job working on a hobby farm, to which he rides every day, the wind in hair and his cheeks ruddy from the autumnal crisp, autumnal air, and from which he brings home all manner of lovingly home-cooked goods, which the family uses to supplement their now sturdy diet of bangers and mash and the occasional colourful vegie-type thing. Lily, on the other hand, is determined to make up for her previously slothful existence, and seeks out part-time work. Shes delighted to be offered a job as a sandwich hand, which she accepts, and then promptly turns down in preference of working as a jewellery shop assistant, largely so that she can be surrounded by pretty sparkly thingssuch as the shops handsome owner. However, when her boss starts courting her, offering her a glimpse of her old lifestyle, and when Laurence is offered back his old job as a stockbroker, both find themselves torn between their new life, that of being cash-poor and time-rich, and their previously well-to-do existence. Really, each finds themselves wondering, whats a little bit of time or personal growth, anyway?

I have to admit that it took me some time to warm to The Only Way is Up. The book takes an extremely heavy-handed approach to its themes and the values is rather proselytisingly espouses, and it takes a little bit of determined teeth clenching to get through the first few chapters, in which Lily orates endlessly about brand names, her utter reliance on her husband as the financial provider, and doing the right (ie, the wealthy persons) thing by her family. This rather painful overemphasis does subside within a few chapters, but rather like a life-long myopic suddenly finding out that theyve become long-sighted in their old age, the book swings too far the other way, and Lily suddenly begins to delight in having fake purple nails, getting inebriated on cask wine, and in the fact that her childrens vocabulary has shrunk by several orders of magnitude. Similarly, Laurences transformation from slave-driven workaholic to a farm-boy who delights in riding a fixed gear bicycle and growing organic produce on a council allotment simply feels too dramatic a change.

This all or nothing approach features throughout the book, with all of the lowly characters in the council estate being kind and lovely people who can think of nothing better to do than help out their down-trodden ex-millionaire friends out of nothing but altruistic intent, and all of those with whom Lily and Laurence used to be friends turning out to be nothing other than schadenfreudian nasty-pasties delighting in their friends financial ruin (some do get their comeuppance, so perhaps if there is a sequel or two to this book, theyll eventually all be rehabilitated). I cant help but feel that the very real and serpentine issues of social class and all of the many complexities that they entail have been swept into some very neat strata, and I think this is a pity, because this book has the potential to touch on some very rich and interesting themes: social mobility and fluidity, as well as passing, for example. A recent chick lit that I felt did this quite well indeed is Sheila OFlanagans excellent'Stand By Me (see our review).

That said (yes, theres often a that said), this is generally quite a sweet and heart-warming read. Its hard not to want to believe that people, despite their differences, are willing to help out another in need, and Matthews has created a cast of lovable ruffian style characters whom its difficult not to be charmed by. Len Eleven Dogs, the lonely man who has only his dogs for companionship; Skull, the tattooed gent who delights in organic micro-scale farming; and Tracey, the rough-as-guts neighbour of the Lamont-Jones who would do anything for her friends. Its also quite enjoyable to watch the Lamont-Joneses work out their own personal issues, too, and their efforts to stick by each other as they seek out their new, improved selves. Whilst very little effort has been made to smudge the lines between the binaries that are evident all throughout this book, this book is smartly and snappily written, and will certainly have you turning the pages. If you can suspend your disbelief for long enough, youll find that theres a surprising lot to like here.

Rating: star Review: The Only Way is Up by Carole Matthewsstar Review: The Only Way is Up by Carole Matthewsstar Review: The Only Way is Up by Carole Matthewsblankstar Review: The Only Way is Up by Carole Matthewsblankstar Review: The Only Way is Up by Carole Matthews

Carole Matthews is also featured in our list of books for chocolate lovers.

With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy

Purchase The Only Way is Up (currently available in the UK and Australia)

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  1. A great review, I have found something similar with all of Carole Mathews books, there is a lot of brand name dropping, however I usually quite enjoy her books for a lazy afternoon of reading and I like the premise of this one so I will be keeping an eye out.
    shelleyrae @ Bookd Out recently posted..Review- Drop Dead Diva's by Virginia Brown

  2. Stephanie /

    Thanks for stopping by, Shelley Rae. I found that this picked up quite a bit after the opening chapters, and though a bit cliched and over the top, it really was quite a fun read.

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